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The menace of tribalism

Jan 25, 2010, 1:30 PM

For the sake of clarity, it is important to know the answer to - what is tribalism? The dictionary defines Tribalism (among other definitions) "as the exaltation of one’s tribe above others."

In other words, tribalism is the feeling that one's tribe is superior to another tribe or to all tribes. As a result, the tribalists have disdain for and often disrespect the tribes they think are inferior to theirs. Such people, therefore, discourage association in any form be it marriage, work or friendship with tribes they deem to be inferior.

The question one is tempted to ask is - what are the reasons behind why some people feel so strongly about the superiority or inferiority of their tribes?

The reasons for tribalism and tribal discrimination may include the following:

The first is history, as many a tribalist traces the perceived superiority of their tribe to ethnic lineage. They will recount how their forebears defeated the other tribes in a war or a series of wars, or sometimes how their forebears enslaved the other tribes.

Such people take pride in their history and no amount of persuasion can make them to see today’s reality. They believe that since their ancestors were “better” than the other tribes, so also are they now.

Another reason for tribalism is geographical location in relation to national resources and power. By this we mean that tribes which are endowed with abundant resources and opportunities often tend to disrespect people from other tribes who come to seek work on their land. Similarly, tribes which have the seat of power tend to think that they are better than others, and sometimes look down on them.

The above mentioned have been aggravated by politics. It is sad to say that most politicians either publicly or privately try to encourage tribal sentiments for their own selfish interests.

Among the effects of tribalism is that it breeds nepotism. Once people feel that their tribesmen are better than people of other tribes, they tend to surround themselves with their tribesmen when they get into positions of trust.

Often tribalists are willing to hire people from their own tribe who may not otherwise be the best candidates for a given job. Such actions deprive the nation of the right people for the right job.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is arguable that the negative effects of tribalism permeate all African countries. Millions have been killed, maimed or displaced in civil wars in sub-Sahara Africa over the past 50 years, mostly because of tribal agitation. Most of us are living witnesses to the carnage that occurred in Rwanda and is still going on in Somalia. These countries have fallen into the abyss mainly because of tribalism.

People who sow seeds of discord by preaching tribalism, racism and religious misunderstanding should find another place to go."

Mwai Kinaki